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Generally, tags have been used for requirements only.

As such, when a user makes a software recommendation request and specifies that it can be run on either one OS or another, the idea has been to not tag it with any OS tags because neither OS is truly a requirement (only one is).

This gets a little sticky in some cases. For example, there are a number of questions in which the OP requests a recommendation for either a C or C++ library. They generally tag those questions with both c and c++. But this is very similar to the OS example above, where neither language is truly a requirement (only one is). If we are to be consistent, they probably should have neither tag.

There are many other examples of this type of dilemma (but would be TLDR to cite them).

The core question is: what is the desired function of tags? If it's to help people find items that are ABSOLUTELY relevant to the tag, then the tags should probably only reflect when the tag is a requirement. But if it's to help people find a larger set of items, namely those that are LIKELY relevant, then the tags should probably be applied in more liberally.

For example, if a user clicks the c++ tag, do they expect to see all questions in which c++ is an option or a requirement? If a user clicks the linux tag, do they expect to see all questions in which linux is an option or a requirement? If a user clicks the gratis tag, do they expect to see all questions in which gratis is an absolute requirement or a just a strong preference?

  • In a perfect world, the asker would either 1) settle for -- in this example -- the C or C++ requirement and list the other as "nice to have", or 2) ask two separate and slightly different questions when the tags are sufficiently different. But I see no solution that could be retrofitted for the existing questions who use such wording. – Tymric Mar 30 '15 at 8:09
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    One possible solution is to use tags to mean OR instead of AND. Thus, if a user wants a Windows OR Linux solution, they could tag both. Similarly, if they want a C OR C++ library, they could tag both. I've noticed a lot of users already do this. Right now, if you're open to a Windows OR Linux solution, you don't tag either, which means the tags don't include many relevant Q and A's. There's no right or wrong for any of this, of course, it's just what will serve everyone the best. – RockPaperLizard Mar 31 '15 at 0:14
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For finding questions to answer, it is beneficial if tags are options.

For finding answers, it is beneficial if tags are requirements.

A middle ground would be a mess, we should stick to one way. So when deciding between these two camps (people answering vs. people browsing), I strongly vote to make the lives of people browsing for answers (i.e., software/solutions) easier:

  • Users that want to provide answers (and use tags to do so) are likely more experienced with this site than users that look for a software solution. More experienced users can rather use other ways to find questions to answer.

  • Users that want to find answers (and use tags to do so) will have a hard(er) time if, for example, a query like [text-editors] [linux] is:answer brings up solutions that don’t work on Linux.

  • Users that come from external search engines are more likely to find relevant answers if the question‘s tags apply to all answers, as our tags get used as indicators by search engines (probably higher rated than plain text keywords in the post’s body, often added to the page’s title, etc.): someone searching for "linux" and getting one of our questions as result will probably be disappointed to find a page that recommends several apps that aren’t available for Linux (because OP welcomed solutions for several operating systems and used OS tags as options instead of requirements).


Yes, a drawback of this way is that not all questions with, for example, Linux solutions will have the corresponding "linux" tag. But we can’t achieve this for all questions, even if we’d use these platforms tags for options:
If the OP doesn’t restrict possible platforms, we can’t add all platform tags, because a question can only have 5 tags (and there are many more platforms).
For example, an OP is looking for a browser extension for any browser (OP will use whichever browser has the best extension), and users recommend extensions for more than 5 browsers ( + + + + + ): not possible to tag like that.

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    I like how you distinguished two discrete tasks: (1) finding questions to answer, and (2) finding answers. There are other tasks too, but in regards to those two, I think I disagree that for finding answers that it is beneficial that tags are requirements. If a user wants to find answers for anything to do with C++, but the question is not tagged with C++ (because it was one of two options), then they will not find the answer (and a search engine will have a hard time too). – RockPaperLizard Mar 31 '15 at 1:04
  • @RockPaperLizard: Yes, if we use tags only for requirements, more questions will have less tags. But that way, we definitely get a higher precision and only sometimes a lower recall. But for recall: every question should have a "category" tag (e.g., text editor, feed reader, date conversion library, etc.) anyway, so users that don’t want to miss something relevant should use the category tag; platform tags are not guaranteed, they are nice-to-have on top of that (for filtering). – unor Mar 31 '15 at 1:43
  • @RockPaperLizard: That said, this is my opinion, and I totally see that the other way (with option instead of requirement tags) is possible, too (and has its own advantages/disadvantages). So I encourage you to add an answer to this question if you think that we should use this other way. – unor Mar 31 '15 at 1:46
  • Thanks. I'm going to give it some thought. I agree with you that both ways have their advantages and disadvantages. I think I lean towards tags being a inclusive (versus exclusive), but both interpretations have their pros and cons. – RockPaperLizard Mar 31 '15 at 4:08

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